For the mother-daughter duo operating Young Jewelers, the key word is innovation: That’s what keeps the business fresh, unique, and energized as it celebrates its 75th year of operations in downtown Jasper, Alabama.
“We’re always trying to think of an innovative and unique experience for our customers,” says Debbie Young Sanders, who joined her parents’ business out of college in 1976 and has partnered with daughter Iris Jarvis since 2015.
One of their latest innovations: a vintage trolley available for rent for parties and events at a special customer discount.
Jarvis, whose own wedding party rode a trolley from ceremony to reception at the Naval Academy, was delighted and inspired by the experience and thought it would set Young Jewelers apart.
“I talked to Mom and said I don’t know another jewelry store that does this,” she recalls.
Ultimately, they found an oldie but goodie in Enid, Oklahoma, brought it to Jasper, overhauled it, and hosted their first mobile event in October: Spirits in the City, a progressive dinner mystery theater with three interim stops and a finale at the local country club.
Now the trolley is booked for the next several months, mostly with wedding parties.
“If you buy an engagement ring,” Jarvis says, “we give you an incredible price to rent the trolley.”
Throughout its 75-year history, Young Jewelers has been in historic downtown Jasper and integrally involved with the community.
Sanders’ parents, Hoyt and Evelyn Young, founded the store in 1948, after Hoyt came home from service in the Army Air Force. He had served during World War II, then used his GI Bill after being inspired by a watchmaker in Columbus, Mississippi, who set him on his future course.
“The man told him, ‘you should go into watch repair, son, you’ll always have a job’,” Sanders says.
On that advice, Young went to watchmaking school in Memphis, Tennessee, then moved to Jasper to open up shop, gaining certification to repair watches for the local railway system and adding a little jewelry to the lineup. Evelyn served as the bookkeeper and buyer.
As for Sanders, she remembers being “very busy” just growing up, taking piano lessons, cheerleading, operating the bow-making machine during Christmas season, and hearing Dad talk about the Atlanta Jewelry Show at the old Henry Grady Hotel.
She was in college and had already changed her major once, from history with pre-law intentions to secondary education, before she got the jewelry bug.
“My parents said, ‘We’re going on a buying trip to New York, do you want to come along?’ and I thought that sounds like fun. … And it was a marvelous experience. Everything was spectacular. We went to dinner in the Rainbow Room sponsored by a vendor, and we saw how diamonds were sorted in cages, and where the Yonkers diamond was cut.”
Sanders came home to change her major again – this time to retailing with a business emphasis.
“I still graduated in four years, despite all the changes. And I’ve never looked back,” she says.
Sanders took on the roles of staff management, buying, and advertising, as well as maintaining a high community service profile. She was the first president of Jasper Main Street in 2014, and Jarvis serves on the board now.
Her favorite part of retailing remains the connection with people.
“It’s a thrill to find something fabulous to bring them, and I love when they’re delighted with it,” she says. “It’s a relationship business. We celebrate everything with them. Weddings, birthdays, holidays, just because. … Last year we sold an engagement ring to a fourth-generation customer.”
Sanders says such longevity is proof of “the Young Jewelers Experience.”
As for Jarvis, her earliest memories were growing up in the back of the business and playing in the bridal registry, rearranging the dishes and faux food.
She graduated from the University of Alabama in the School of Business and calls upon her education and her experience as president of the Alabama Business Sales Team to help develop the store’s business plan.
“We come from a long line of strong women,” says Jarvis, who credits her and her mom’s independence to their heritage and mentors. They share the military-wife experience. Her husband is in the Navy, and her father (Sanders’ husband) flew for the Air National Guard before opening his aviation company.
The store has had seven locations since its establishment, all within blocks of each other.
“We moved as we grew,” says Sanders.
After a devastating tornado struck in 1974, the store moved down the street from its original location. Later Sanders was able to purchase the block across from City Hall, and the store now occupies a portion of that space since 2001. The store boasts 5,000 total square feet, with about 3,000 square feet of showroom and a 10-person “awesome staff” that Sanders calls her “YJ family.”
Jarvis has led renovation efforts for that store, updating the ceiling, floors, lighting and overall décor, including a granite waterfall bar. She entertains ambitions for moving upward too, creating a rooftop space for outdoor Young Jewelers events.
The women agree that their strong relationship as mother and daughter and as business partners makes for a healthy business.
“My mom and I work incredibly well together,” says Jarvis. “Our mother-daughter relationship never gets in the way of our being business partners. We love each other, and we respect each other.”
Sanders adds, “It’s great to have someone you can bounce ideas off of, and knowing they love the business as much as you do. You can dream big.”